Wilton Legionnaires salute fellow veterans

WILTON — Neither the leaden skies nor the coronavirus pandemic dampened the spirits of the town’s veterans as American Legion Post 86 conducted a short, but heartfelt Veterans Day program on Nov. 11.

Several dozen people gathered around the Veterans Memorial Green for a ceremony that also capped the year-long observance of the post’s 100th anniversary. The program occurred on what was also the 10th anniversary of the memorial that honors Wilton residents who died during their military service from the French and Indian War through the Gulf wars.

Legionnaire Frank Dunn led those assembled in prayer to remember all veterans and “the hardships they faced, for the sacrifices they made, for their many contributions toward America’s victories over tyranny and oppression. We respect them, we thank them, we honor them, we are proud of them.”

Selectman Josh Cole read a proclamation on behalf of First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, after which Wilton police Lts. Rob Kluk and David Hartman presented the Post 86 flag they carried to Mount Kilimanjaro last year.

The trek was a successful effort to raise money for Special Olympics, with the officers — along with 10 colleagues from other area departments — raising $163,000.

Among those contributing to their cause was the post, and so the police officers carried one of their flags to the peak in Africa. At the Veterans Day ceremony, they presented the post with their flag and a photo of the lieutenants holding it atop the mountain.

The morning’s guest speaker was Paul Sullivan, a sixth-grader from Middlebrook School who won the post’s annual essay contest. The theme was “Tell us about a veteran you know … and how that person’s military service affected you and made a difference for the country.”

Paul wrote about his “Great Grandpa Max,” who served in the Army as a mechanic during World War II. He explained that Max maintained equipment such as tanks, cars and guns.

“Without Max and other mechanics, soldiers wouldn’t always have equipment that worked properly. This is essential to winning any war and his work helped with this,” Paul said.

He told how Max fought in the Battle of the Bulge and landed on Omaha Beach a few days after D-Day, and as a result “saw some very tragic things.” Like many WWII veterans, Max kept these memories to himself through the years.

Max, Paul said, fought “for his family, his friends and his country so they could have a better world to live in.”

Max’s contributions continued throughout his life, Paul said, recounting how he volunteered at his local food pantry, donated blood, and was an active member in his church.

After the ceremony, Paul explained how he met his great-grandfather a few times before he died at age 95 in 2015. He learned about his contributions first-hand, but also from his grandmother, Caryl Grourud, who attended the ceremony with her husband Mark and Paul’s mother Marit Sullivan.

Caryl explained that Max grew up on a farm in Nebraska, but was in California when his draft papers arrived. Max’s father hid those papers, she said, so he would have the opportunity to enlist at age 21, rather than be drafted.

Max spent three years in Europe, she said, before he returned life as a farmer. After retiring from farming, Max worked a number of jobs, including at the local supermarket, where he was employed until age 94. During his lifetime, he donated 24 gallons of blood.

In his concluding remarks, Post Commander Bill Glass thanked present and past members whose efforts have made the post “well-positioned to continue our tradition of service to veterans, our community, its youth and to the nation.

“Although there are many challenges ahead, we are confident of our future and look forward to fulfilling the mission of the American Legion and ensuring we all appreciate our veterans, respect our flag and understand what it means to be an American.”